PNW Ports Set Ambitious Clean Air Goals

NWports_cleanairThe Pacific Northwest ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, BC updated their clean air strategy by setting goals to reduce diesel particulate matter emissions by 75 percent per ton of cargo by 2015, rising to 80 percent by 2020.

Relative to 2005 baseline, the ports’ goal is also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per ton of cargo by 10 percent by 2015 and 15 percent by 2020.

Combined with projected cargo growth in the region—which may be optimistic on the ports’ part— the draft 2013 Update is forecasting overall emission reductions of 70 percent by 2015 and 75 percent by 2020.

“The good news is that emissions are down and in this strategy update we are setting more aggressive goals for the near future,” says Stephanie Jones Stebbins, director of environmental and planning at the Port of Seattle. “The draft strategy update includes both aggressive reduction goals and sector-specific actions to meet those goals.”

Last month’s update report is based on results from the 2011 Puget Sound Maritime Air Emissions Inventory released in October 2012. The inventory found maritime-related air pollution has decreased since 2005, due in part to investments in cleaner technology and cleaner fuels and by the maritime industry and government agencies.

To develop and implement the this 2013 Strategy Update, the three ports joined with other government agencies responsible for protecting air quality in the “airshed,” including Environment Canada, Metro Vancouver, the EPA, the Washington State Department of Ecology and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The airshed centers on the Salish Sea and includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, greater Puget Sound area, Strait of Georgia, Haro Strait, Boundary Pass, Rosario Strait and other nearby waterways.

The first strategy was adopted in 2007 and since then the partners have focused on performance targets that account for fluctuating levels of port activity and on increasing efficiency per ton of cargo moved through the ports.

It’s a laudable and comprehensive approach that applies to ocean-going vessels, harbor vessels, locomotives, trucks and cargo-handling equipment running for the most part on highly-polluting diesel engines. Keying the targets to cargo tonnage over a wide region—one cargo vessel might call at all three ports on a single voyage—is a way to make the overall emission reduction percentages seem more impressive. Sort of like smoke and mirrors.

[Image: Cover of Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy draft 2013 update]

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